Gold Star families, a distinction which originates from the golden star stitched to a flag flown by families of fallen veterans, have long leveraged their position in politics.
Trump got into a feud with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son was killed in Iraq, during the presidential campaign. Khan criticized Trump for his proposed Muslim ban, and the then-presidential candidate criticized the Gold Star mother’s silent presence at the Democratic National Committee.
“If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me,” Trump said.
Fast forward a year, and President Trump is now accusing a widow of falsely claiming that he had trouble remembering the name of her dead husband when he called to express his condolences.
Former presidents might not have feuded with Gold Star family members, but they certainly dealt with their criticism.
The most prominent recent example is Cindy Sheehan, who protested throughout the George W. Bush presidency following the death of her son, Casey, in Iraq. Sheehan set up camp outside Bush’s ranch in Texas demanding a meeting with the president. The protest was highly popular and the protest site, dubbed Camp Casey, was visited by major political figures.
Sheehan accused Bush of invading Iraq for oil profits, but, unlike Trump, Bush didn’t attack Sheehan.
“Part of my duty as the president is to meet those who have lost a loved one. I sympathize with Mrs. Sheehan,” Bush said in 2005. “She feels strongly about her position. She has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America.”
The Gold Star mother later ran unsuccessfully for Congress, for governor of California, and for vice president on a third-party ticket.
Former President Barack Obama also faced criticism from Gold Star mothers.
A 2009 report from the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal included quotes from multiple Gold Star mothers who questioned Obama’s plan to draw down troops in Iraq.
“I’m concerned the terrorists will come back there after we leave,” one mother, whose son died from wounds suffered in a car bombing in Iraq, said. “All of our sons’ sacrifices, I want all of them to know it was worth something. I don’t want them to pull out of it before they’re finished.”
One close parallel to Trump’s attacks on Gold Star parents does exist. Former President George H.W. Bush lashed out at relatives of prisoners of war who heckled him at an event in 1992. A Los Angeles Times report at the time stated that several people chanted: “Tell the truth! Release the files!”
“Would you please be quiet and let me finish,” Bush reportedly responded to applause.”Would you please shut up and sit down!”